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Paper Mage    by Leah R. Cutter order for
Paper Mage
by Leah R. Cutter
Order:  USA  Can
Roc, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The concept behind this story intrigued me - a traditional young Chinese (Tang dynasty) woman is raised unconventionally by an aunt to be a talented paper mage. Xiao Yen develops the ability to give transient life to her folded creations. In Paper Mage, the author has crafted an inventive and exciting story, but unfortunately its flow is continually interrupted by too many short flashbacks, making it disjointed.

Xiao Yen's aunt Wang Tie-Tie's lifelong regret is a youthful choice that she made when she was offered the peach of immortality, and refused it in order to follow tradition. She vowed to 'move heaven and earth' to give a descendant the same choice. Xiao Yen grows up torn between her aunt's ambitions for her, and the indoctrination that all daughters received in that time, to be dutiful and take their mother's guidance. However, since Wang Tie-Tie controls the pursestrings, she has her way, and her niece is set on a hard and lonely path.

Xiao Yen's first professional assignment is in escort duty with barbarian brothers Udo and Ehran. They are accompanied by a lovely courtesan, Bei Xi, who is friendly to Xiao Yen, but is not what she seems. The heroine's curiosity and dedication to duty results in her taking on another task, in service to the goddess Jhr Bei, whose soul has been stolen by the almost invunerable barbarian magician/warleader Vakhtang.

Xiao Yen has to steal an item from the treasure hoard of a fearsome rat dragon. Her success launches her into a further series of adventures, during which a degree of understanding develops between this brave and resolute young woman and barbarian Udo. Being forced to kill leads Xiao Yen to a crisis of identity, after which she finally resolves who she is and what she wants to do with her life.

As a debut novel, and despite being hard to follow, Paper Mage is worth the read, and its author is one to watch.

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